(Larry Hurtado): We’ve just completed this year’s Review Boards for our first-year PhD students in NT/Christian Origins, a larger number than in most years, and these include a raft of interesting projects. We require all first-year PhD students to prepare a formal thesis-proposal normally submitted in May, which goes to a Review Board of three or four colleagues, who read the submission and then interview the candidate. The result can be simple approval, but also often can involve some requirements for tweaking the project. In some (few) cases, the proposal can be sent back for revision and re-submission. All PhD students must finally obtain approval at this stage before they can proceed with the thesis beyond the first year. This year’s first-year PhD students in NT/Christian Origins include some very interesting projects and some impressive students. In a future posting we may be able to give specifics on the thesis projects approved this year.
The British PhD is a “research” degree, the weight and assessment resting totally on the thesis itself. The aim is ideally a publishable-quality thesis submitted within 36-48 months. Unlike the American pattern, PhD students here don’t have a year or two of courses and then exams in the field of study. In Edinburgh we take this to mean that our students should be farther along in studies and preparation for thesis research than beginning PhD students in the American model. So, for example, in American programmes the student can be admitted with no German or French, and with perhaps only the MDiv, because the PhD programme involves further courses and time to acquire languages before the student is allowed to commence thesis research. But we typically require further prior studies, e.g., a true masters degree in the subject, such as our MTh, preferably including a dissertation component. We’ve found that some prior experience in a masters dissertation better prepares students for the immediate plunge into PhD thesis research involved in the UK.
We also expect and urge applicants to have worked up key languages in advance. Good Greek of course, but also reading ability in other relevant primary-text language(s) (e.g., Hebrew and/or Latin, depending on the thesis focus). Likewise, we expect a basic reading ability in German and French, to handle the scholarly publications in these other key languages of modern scholarship.
Of course, students typically need to refine and enhance their languages, and we lay on special courses (e.g., German and French) intended specifically for PhD students to develop good reading abilities. Also, every year several PhD students take advantage of the wonderful opportunity provided to go to Paris for a few weeks in the summer for an intensive French-language experience.
We’re probably more explicit in these matters than some other British universities, and this can appear a bit demanding and “hard-nosed”. But it’s all intended to promote success in PhD studies and with a view to completion within the prescribed time-frame.
In addition to the weekly Research Seminar in biblical studies (where local and visiting scholars and also PhD students farther along in their theses present make presentations), CSCO arranges occasional special seminars and mini-conferences to enrich the experiences of PhD students here. As another measure, we typically take interested PhD students to Dublin for specially-arranged examination of the Chester Beatty biblical papyri.
During my visit to Heidelberg for the most recent conferring of the John Templeton Award for Theological Promise, one of the awardees (a recent PhD from an American univesity) asked me why Americans come for PhD studies in Edinburgh. The reasons vary and can be multiple. Edinburgh is a particularly historic and romantic city, and of course the university has a world-wide reputation for excellence. We have some internationally-recognized scholars with whom students want to work. And for students with the right prior preparation and a readiness and ability to dive into thesis-research, our programme is attractive. It’s not for everyone, particularly not for those uncertain as yet of what they want to research, and those who need more preparation for it. But over the fifteen years that I’ve been here, I’ve been impressed with the typical quality of those whom we admit. I look forward to those who passed this year’s Review Board completing their theses and making some interesting contributions to the field. (Oh, and did I mention the scholarships??)